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A Few Product Highlights from GreenBuild

The GreenBuild conference, as usual, was the place to find out about innovations in green building products

Posted on Nov 22 2012 by Alex Wilson

I attended the GreenBuild Conference and related meetings in San Francisco last week. This is the largest conference and trade show in the green building field, and it is increasingly becoming the national event where large manufacturers roll out new building products.

Described below are a few product highlights from the trade show that caught my eye as I wandered around. I only got through about a quarter of the trade show.

Wood-fiber insulation from Germany

In Europe it is becoming increasingly common to use high-permeability wood fiber sheathingMaterial, usually plywood or oriented strand board (OSB), but sometimes wooden boards, installed on the exterior of wall studs, rafters, or roof trusses; siding or roofing installed on the sheathing—sometimes over strapping to create a rainscreen. as an exterior insulation material, and at least one such material was on display at the conference. The Small Planet Workshop in Olympia, Washington, is now distributing the German product Agepan THD. These 2-inch-thick panels insulate to R-5.7 (R-2.3 per inch) and have a high perm rating of 18 — meaning that water vapor can pass through them fairly easily.

It’s hard to say whether wood-fiber insulative sheathing will gain followers here, but there is growing interest in wall assemblies that won’t trap moisture, so products like these are worth keeping an eye on. The Small Planet Workshop also distributes the expanded-cork boardstock insulation that I’ve written about previously and that I’m planning to use on my own house in Dummerston, Vermont.

Vacuum insulation moving into the main stream?

Vacuum insulation has been around for a while, but it has never made inroads into the market — despite a major effort for Owens Corning to do so with its Aura panel way back in 1992. Dow Corning is going to give it a shot. After premiering its Vacuum Insulation Panel (VIP) at the Living Future Conference in May of this year (see BuildingGreen article and GreenSpec product page), the company made a bigger splash at Greenbuild.

Dow Corning’s VIP is sold in 24" by 36" panels in thicknesses from 1/4 inch to 1 1/2 inch. The panels have a fumed silica core that is 95% pre-consumer recycled content, wrapped with an aluminum skin, and 1-inch-thick panels provide an insulating value of R-39 (center-of-panel).

Dow Corning’s vacuum panel is being specified in commercial-building facades to insulate spandrel glass (in all-glass curtainwall buildings, the opaque glass that spans between glazingWhen referring to windows or doors, the transparent or translucent layer that transmits light. High-performance glazing may include multiple layers of glass or plastic, low-e coatings, and low-conductivity gas fill.), but I believe the primary application for VIPs will be in appliance manufacturing where high insulation performance in thin layers is desired (refrigerators, freezers, and water heaters). A press release on the product with a link to a downloadable information sheet is found at this link.

A high-R-value coating with silica aerogel

Silica aerogel is a bizarre material. Aerogel the lowest-density solid known. It transmits light and insulates extremely well, owing to its molecular structure. For the past decade, the Cabot Corporation has produced silica aerogel granules under the brand name Lumira (previously Nanogel) that are used in daylightingUse of sunlight for daytime lighting needs. Daylighting strategies include solar orientation of windows as well as the use of skylights, clerestory windows, solar tubes, reflective surfaces, and interior glazing to allow light to move through a structure. panels that provide diffused light even while offering remarkably high insulating value (about R-20 in a 2 1/2-inch panel), and the material is also incorporated into a felt-like mat that can be used in roofing fabrics. Find Lumira in GreenSpec here.

At GreenBuild the company introduced a new formulation of silica aerogel, Enova, that can be added to paint to provide a thin, insulating coating. A very effective demonstration in the booth used a piece of aluminum that was half painted with this 2 mm-thick coating and half uncoated with a refrigerated space behind. You could feel the dramatic difference in temperature, since the aerogel coating significantly reduced heat flow through the material. A key benefit will be preventing condensation.

Zehnder’s top-efficiency HRV now certified by the Home Ventilating Institute

Zehnder is Swiss manufacturer of high-efficiency heat-recovery ventilators (HRVs) for whole-house ventilation. Represented in the U.S. by Zehnder America since 2010, the company is defining the future of high-performance ventilation. All of the company’s HRVs carry PassivhausA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. certification, and the company’s Novus 300 HRV recently earned certification with the Home Ventilating Institute (HVI).

Based on the HVI test methods, the Novus 300 achieves “apparent sensible effectiveness” of 94% to 96% and “sensible recovery efficiency” of 90% to 91%, significantly exceeding the performance of any other HRVs in the HVI Certified Products Directory. One of the company’s ComfoAir models (see GreenSpec product page) also carries HVI certification, and others in the line will be certified.

Alex is founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and executive editor of Environmental Building News. He also recently created the Resilient Design Institute. To keep up with Alex’s latest articles and musings, you can sign up for his Twitter feed.

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Image Credits:

  1. Small Planet Workshop

Nov 28, 2012 10:40 PM ET

Other interesting products
by Bronwyn Barry

Hi Alex,

Thanks for these product updates. I missed the aerogel paint at the show myself. I'd like to contribute a few of my own show favorites. The first is one you've already given a Top Product Award for 2012 to: expanded cork 'exulation', distributed by Small Planet Workshop ( I learned at the show that this product also comes in various densities. The high density option can be used to carve furniture, or insulate window frames. I was fascinated to see the regular density autoclaved cork panels used as the exposed exterior finish too. Very attractive and a great 'twofer' since it serves double-duty as exterior insulation.

An EPS version of a high density insulation product was shown in the Austrian Pavilion by CompacFoam. ( This company has somehow compressed regular EPS to form a very solid, almost unbreakable product. It looks like it has great potential for insulating parts of the building envelope that require load-bearing capacity or strength. (Insulated window frames anyone?)

Another favorite was the small, ductless thru-wall HRV by Lunos from 475 High Performance Building Supply ( This unit should make Passive House multi-family and retrofit projects a lot easier. I'd love to install a pair in my own condo here in San Francisco, which has poor ventilation.

I hope you had a chance to stop by the Passive House Zone hosted by the American Passive House Network? (APHN) Two of my three products listed here and two of your listed products could all be found there. The APHN will be repeating and expanding the 'Zone' at next year's Greenbuild in Philadelphia. We're hoping to make it easier for visitors to find products that have already been used in high performance buildings. I'll be sure to keep you posted.

Nov 29, 2012 6:14 AM ET

Edited Nov 29, 2012 6:19 AM ET.

Response to Bronwyn Barry
by Martin Holladay

More information on the Lunos fan can be found in my November 2011 report on new products and in my report on a recent presentation by Chris Corson.

Nov 29, 2012 7:58 AM ET

Edited Nov 29, 2012 8:00 AM ET.

More Passive House products
by Alex Wilson

I spent a fair amount of time in the Passive House section of the Expo and was intrigued to see a couple other products distributed by Peak Building Products: Porextherm Vacupor NT, a German vacuum insulation panel that provides R-28 for an inch-thick panel (center-of-panel R-value); and Hella Blinds, an Austrian exterior roller blind for windows that we've previously written about at BuildingGreen. Peak Products also distributes the Lufta HRV.

I'll be reporting down-the-road a bit on how it goes to wrap our house with the expanded cork insulation that Bronwyn mentioned. Our shipment arrived in Vermont (from Portugal) while I was at Greenbuild; I'm hoping we'll be installing it in the next few weeks.

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